Superintendent Vitti’s unwavering faith in Teach for America creates mistrust among veteran teachers.

By Greg Sampson

I enjoyed listening to the interview Dr.
Vitti gave on WJCT this morning via the First Coast Connect
program (9 to
10 AM). The establishment of single gender classes and schools is an important
topic that we need to hear more about. 
But first, I want to talk
about a comment Dr. Vitti made that revealed he has had a nerve struck in
regard to TFA, Teaching For America, that brings new teachers to our schools,
most often to the schools that struggle the most. 
said, “We have to get over this idea that there are union teachers and Teach
for America teachers, they’re all teachers, and they all serve our children, we
will have—initially, we do have a lot of teachers who are surplused, our
enrollment is declining as I have been talking about for some time due to
charter enrollment, and this process happens every year …  then what happens is—based on the contract
which we have to follow—more veteran teachers are placed in those open
positions throughout the county, and then we hire new teachers . Some of the
new teachers that we hire were Teach for America teachers that work in our
hard-to-staff, traditionally lower-performing schools because unfortunately we
don’t have a line of teachers ready and waiting to teach in our hard-to-staff
schools. So at the end of the year, I do believe we will arrive at a point where
all of our surplused [teachers] are placed and we’ll have to hire some new
teachers, usually again in our hard-to-staff schools, mainly in science and
math on the secondary level.” 
He was asked via a listener
email if TFA teachers would receive priority in placement from the surplus
pool. I have edited his response to remove the ums and pauses. The ellipsis
omits his challenge of the number of surplus teachers reported as 700. (You can
listen to the entire half-hour here:
Understand that, despite the
superintendent’s effort to downplay it, the number of teachers surplused this
year is unprecedented. Understand further that the process of teacher movement
and new appointments has become very disorganized. Very few understand what
process the district is following, HR does not communicate eligibility for
screened posts (Test Chair, Dean, etc.) as it promises, no one has been told if
they are eligible for a transfer, and everyone is shaking their heads saying,
“I’ve never seen it this bad.” 
The process has become a
massive free-for-all as teachers take initiative to contact principals about
openings and scramble to find a position. Some principals made some commitments
and had to retract them as HR canceled the transaction because the surplus pool
has to be dealt with first. 
If I could say something to
Dr. Vitti, it would be this: you have created mistrust between yourself and
teachers on many issues. We are tired of your surveys without end that seem
designed to yield the answers you want, rather than giving us a chance to share
what is on our minds. Give us an open comment box on a survey—let us tell you
what we want you to know—then read, ponder, and respond. 
Back to
TFA: there is clearly mistrust between career teachers, new teachers who came
with education degrees, and even alternate certification teachers and DCPS on
this issue. The overall question is whether TFA recruits are a privileged class
of teachers or are we treated the same? Specifically, we want to know:
1.       There
was a heavy surplus of teachers this Spring. Were TFA teachers protected from
surplus or, as some of the most inexperienced teachers, were they surplused
according to seniority like everyone else?
2.       If
TFA teachers are in the surplus pool, will they be placed first? Or will DCPS
proceed strictly according to seniority?
3.       If
a RIF (reduction in force) takes place, are TFA teachers subject to RIF? Or
will teachers with more seniority be RIFFed to preserve a place for them?
4.       DCPS
has entered into a contract to increase the number of TFA teachers it will
accept a minimum of 100 teachers for the next three years.  If DCPS does not have 100 positions
available, will DCPS tell TFA sorry, we can’t take them, or will it RIF
existing teachers to make room?
5.       Even
if DCPS doesn’t RIF existing teachers, will TFA applicants be hired before
applicants with a four-year degree from an accredited teaching college?

Clear answers to these questions would put many concerns,
and yes suspicions, to rest.

Sherry Hage stands up for her man and her Charter Schools too

The Sun Sentinel has done an amazing piece exposing charter schools for the liability that they are.

Sherry Hage the chief academic officer wrote in to defend charter schools. From the Sun Sentinel: As a professional educator, I spent 10 years in the classroom for Broward County Public School District. And for the past 13 years, I have worked at Charter Schools USA and currently serve as their Chief Academic Officer. I have seen the good, bad and ugly side of education. I can say with confidence that CSUSA driving change in the communities where we operate schools.

However one thing she leaves out is that she is married to the CEQ of Charter schools USA, nope doesn’t mention it anywhere. Don’t you think this would be a nice bit of info to have?

As for them helping communities not so fast, let me tell you about the most recent CUSA school to come to Jacksonville.

The charter for the Charter School at Mandarin was given to the Renaissance Charter School group the non-profit arm of Charter Schools USA (CUSA), who then contracted with CUSA to run the school and their construction arm Red Apple to build it. Some people might say one stop shopping; others might say their set up would make Columbian drug dealers envious. Red Apple by the way started construction before it was approved. They may have know it was a certainty what with Jacksonville’s school boards friendliness to charters, though that did not stop CUSA from hedging its bets and donating thousands to Mandarin’s school board representative, Jason Fischer.  
Nobody on the Charter School at Mandarin’s board is from Jacksonville and its sister school the Charter School at Regency would have been an F school this past year if it wasn’t protected by states rule that schools can drop only one letter grade. A rule co-created by Gary Chartrand the local businessman who brought the KIPP charter school to town who likewise has benefited from the rule. I mention these two things because similar things happened in Orange and Hillsborough counties and they are fighting in the courts against the expansion of CUSA in their school districts. They have to fight in the courts because despite their objections Gary Chartrand and the state board of education, none of who are true educators, but consists of a citrus grower, grocer and cable TV executive instead, rubber-stamped the approval of the charter schools. 
So much for local control right?
Jonathan Hage the CEO of CUSA and husband of the executive that wrote the Sun Sentinel, even though he lives in Florida and does the vast bulk of his business here has registered the company in Delaware where CUSA operates zero schools. Then even though he only operates 58 schools with a little over 50,000 students, he lives in a 1.8 million dollar house, owns a 350 thousand dollar yacht named Fishing for Schools and sends his children to an exclusive private school. His salary was unavailable but I have heard estimates of up to 3.6 million dollars.
By comparison Duval’s superintendent Vitti who runs 176 schools with 119 thousand students, makes 275 thousand dollars, lives in a 180 thousand dollar condo (I checked his financial disclosure forms) sends his children to public school and doesn’t own a yacht. 
Furthermore the three closest schools to where it will open up were all A schools last year so there was hardly a need to rescue kids from failing public schools.
Finally CUSA is a big player in the lobby game sending thousands of dollars to mostly republican legislators. My main problem with this is they undoubtedly use public money because remember they get their money from the public, to lobby for more public money.
Is this what you envision when you hear the words charter schools? A lucrative profit center for a couple who won’t even send their own kids to one of thier schools. It is obvious what Sherry Hage envisions.

Gary Chartrand donates to 3 SB races none in his home town

Gary Chartrand lives in Ponte Vedra Florida which is in St. Johns County. Like in Duval there are three school board races, unlike in Duval, Chartrand has donated to none of them.  In fact in St. Johns County SB races aren’t big business like they are here. The seven candidates there have raised collectively around 24,000 dollars or about 6,000 less than Chartrand’s pick in  District 4 Darryl Willie alone.

This pro-privatization millionaire isn’t interested in buying races in the town he lives in but in Jacksonville he is trying to collect them like stamps.

Is the Jacksonville Public Education Fund trying to buy the school board?

It sure looks like it!
First Six board members of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund donated to Darryl Willie’s campaign and 5 of them donated to Couch and Shines campaigns too. 

Daryl Willie
Cindy Edelman and her husband 2,000 dollars.
John Baker, 1,000 dollars
Gary Chardrand, his wife Nancy and daughter Meredith, 2,500 dollars
Poppy Clements and her husband 2,000 dollars
Cleve Warren, 255 dollars
Deloris Weaver’s husband and son, 1,500 dollars
Scott Shine
The Clements 500
The Weavers 1000
Baker 500
The Chartrands 500
The Edelmans 1000 
They just got on the Shine band wagon, more money is bound to come
Becky Couch (who doesn’t even have an opponent) 
The Clements, 2000
The Weavers, 3000
Baker. 1000
The Chartrands 1500
The Edelmans 1000
I hope we all see the conflict of interest here. The line between the JPEF and the School District is becoming increasingly blurred what with them running numerous activities and managing tens of millions of dollars through the Quality Education for All initiative.  The same people above also donated heavily to Ashley Smith Juarez in 2012 and helped her get elected. If the JPEF has a quorum of school board members what couldn’t they do? 

A lack of accountability wth Vouchers hurt our most vulnerable students

From the Sun Sentinel Editorial board

Florida hands out tens of millions of dollars in vouchers to help students with learning disabilities attend private schools.

Hold your applause. There’s a catch. There’s always a catch.

State law provides no requirement — thus no incentive — for these schools to actually offer specialized services for learning disabled students. And nobody from state or local government ever checks to see if their needs are being met.

Call it an oversight if lawmakers forgot to create standards for schools that receive these vouchers, known as McKay Scholarships. But call it unforgivable if they fail to fix the charade.

Taxpayers pay good money to help students with learning disabilities get the help they need to succeed, and we expect those paid-for services to be delivered — not requested or hoped for — whether in public or private schools.

Last year, the Department of Education doled out $18.1 million in vouchers to help 2,500 Broward students attend a private school, Sun Sentinel reporter Dan Sweeney recently reported. These vouchers ranged from $4,100 to nearly $20,000 per child. Throw in another $8.5 million for 1,232 students in Palm Beach County, and you see we’re not talking about small change.

The results are painfully predictable: Of the 138 private schools in Broward County, Sweeney found at least 83 do not employ full-time special education teachers. Many don’t even have a tutor on campus. In Palm Beach County, at least 28 of the 59 private schools do not.

And why would they?

Why would for-profit businesses — yes, even those in the field of education — use their own staff, resources and time to provide complex and costly services when taxpayer-backed checks keep coming if they don’t? If there’s no consequence for failing to deliver, why change?

The ones paying the price are students in need of extra help, and their parents, who are pooling their money with state vouchers to try to help their children.

“If someone wants to pay for a school that has no standards out of their own pocket, they’re free to do that. This is America,” says Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of public advocacy group Fund Education Now. “But when you’re taking public dollars and you’re putting them into these private schools that are not regulated and have no obligation to meet the same standards that we impose on our public schools, that’s when the public should become concerned.”

The state’s response? Hands-off, essentially. Buyer beware.

“If a parent of an eligible special needs student is unhappy with a private school,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokesperson for the DOE, “they may choose to transfer the student to another participating private school or a public school.”

Better than asking parents to bounce their children from school to school, state officials should ensure schools that take public money for special-needs kids provide the services needed by special-needs kids.

If accountability is good enough for public schools, it’s good enough for private schools that receive public money.

“These are some of our most fragile students and they deserve proper education and support,” Oropeza says. “It would be criminal if they’re not getting it.”

Duval County surplusses 700 teachers

That friends is an unprecedented number. That’s friends is also ten percent of the teachers in the city. Holy lack of stability Batman. Most of these teachers don’t know where they will end up yet especially the ones administratively surplussed from the QEA (Duval’s doomed attempt to bring our best teachers to our most struggling schools) schools.

I talked to an assistant principal at an elementary school and she said they had taken in three transfers and hired one new teacher until Human Resources nixed the acquisitions because the surplus list was to big and schools needed to pull from that instead. That’s even more lives upended though I guess most of them will be better off than the three hundred security guards and secretaries which are about to be let go.

Does it seem like we are going forward or backwards to you?

Duval County is a penny wise but a pound foolish

By Greg Sampson

When A School System
Runs on Dollars and Cents (or no-cents) 
Can You Think of the

I signed up to teach summer
school. It was not for the money; after three years as an instructional coach,
I felt the need to be a teacher again to remain authentic in my work with
teachers. I wanted the struggle: how can I deliver a year’s worth of
instruction, day after day, to engage and motivate struggling learners to make
progress and find success?

eight days, I was surplused. That’s the way it works in Duval County and across
the nation: too few students, why let two teachers work with ten and nine
students apiece when we can combine this into one class, one teacher, nineteen
students, that’s an efficient use of resources, right?

I can’t
argue with that. And, since I didn’t need the money, I can easily enjoy
vacation rather than work.

this is what I want you to think about. This method of “doing business” is
detrimental to students.

don’t understand why they lose their teachers. Students are like puppies; they
form an emotional attachment to their first teacher of the year/term. You can
move them to a new one, but it’s never the same.

 My students
were not happy yesterday when I went to the school to talk to them and explain
the situation.
You see, I do more than teach math; I teach students how to be
successful in life. To get summer school students to buy into the process, I
talked to them about why their presence, when they would rather hang with their
friends, would help them. It was not only about getting that last core credit
to move to high school; I would help them position themselves so they would
succeed in their next course—algebra.

know, the one course that has the requirement to pass the state EOC or else
they can’t graduate with a high school diploma.

believed me. We were moving. But now, the surplus.

County Public Schools is penny-wise and pound foolish. What is the cost of a
couple of thousand dollars of salary versus the societal cost of students who
give up because they come to believe the system is against them?

Superintendent arrived promising a new way of work and a new way of doing
things. But all I see is the same ol’, same ol’. New players; same game.

one who has a management position of importance, or an oversight position
(yeah, that’s you, Board members), seems to understand the psychological
distress inflicted on students when they lose the teacher they liked and
believed in. 

How long has DCPS been in
existence? They can’t statistically predict student populations and decide on
appropriate staffing levels before a year/term begins? They can’t make the
necessary teacher movements over the summer? They have to wait to conduct head
counts the first two weeks of school, take another two to four weeks to make
adjustments—so that we really don’t get started on a new school year until

then they talk endlessly about being data driven. Really—seriously?

students deserve better.

Duval County initiates a hiring freeze.

From DTU: 1.     Transformation School Displacement, Surplus, and Voluntary Transfer: The DCPS Human Resources Department is trying to place a high volume of employees that have either been surplussed from all worksites or who have received administrative transfers or the ability to opt out from Transformation schools.  The majority of these employees are in the teacher unit. There are approximately 700 teachers that must be placed. Because of this, there is a hiring freeze for DCPS.

That’s a lot of teachers being moved around, some of who may ultimately lose their jobs because of the QEA transfers, influx of Teach for America and the districts new class size policy where they decided paying a fine was better and cheaper than trying to meet the requirements. Then consider the three hundred security guards and secretaries who are being straight up let go. That’s a thousand people and their families whose lives to some degree or another are being messed with.

I just imagine things being run differently and better. How about you?

Where does Jason Fischer think the money is going to come from or just how out of touch is he? Updated

From the Times Union when talking about
Vitti’s proposal for a technology bond: 
Jason Fischer, another board member, said he
believes in Vitti’s high-tech vision but he wonders if there are better ways to
pay for it than via a general revenue bond, including finding money in the
district’s regular budget.

Um, hundreds of people are losing their jobs this year as
the district guts its secretarial and security pool. That’s on the street with no
benefits to pay for Vitti’s plans, plans that Fischer has voted for.
If there is money being wasted, a duplication of services
that could be stopped or a bad a plan out there then I wish Fischer would bring
it to our attention. 

Fischer is taking the notion that being a school board
is a part time gig to all new heights. His out of touchness (yes I know I just
made up that word) is stunning. 

Update: I received the following note from Mr. Fischer and as someone who has been misquoted/taken out of contest by the TU, I find what he says completely plausible, I do however also disagree with Mr. Fischer and think the time is right and the need is great for a bond. 

The TU never called me about the story. They are referencing a brief conversation that happened at a workshop over a month and a half ago. The fact is that we didn’t have a detailed conversation around this issue. There was strong push back against the idea of doing a bond. I very specifically said that the public was not ready for a bond, and that I was against raising taxes.

High expectations and testing can cure disabilities

I am sorry friends I don’t have the energy to tackle any more of Arne “I never taught a day in my life but somehow I am the secretary of education” Duncan’s ridiculous and complete misunderstanding of education and teachers but here are a few pieces about him believing high expectations and testing can cure disabilities,  from a couple people that did.

From Curmudgucation

Arne Duncan announced that, shockingly, students with disabilities do poorly in school. They perform below level in both English and math. No, there aren’t any qualifiers attached to that. Arne is bothered that students with very low IQs, students with low function, students who have processing problems, students who have any number of impairments– these students are performing below grade level.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)

And I’m pretty sure we don’t know any such thing. I’m pretty sure that the special needs students in schools across the country are special needs precisely because they have trouble meeting the usual expectations. 

From NPR

And yet, Duncan said, most states are doing exactly what the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has required until now. School districts are required to create an “individualized education plan,” or IEP, tailored to a student’s needs. 

School officials must show that these children are getting instructional support in a timely manner and that they have full access to the curriculum and everything else that goes on in school. 

Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he’ll require proof that these kids aren’t just being served but are actually making academic progress.

Um aren”t just being served but are actually making academic progress, I guess my magic wand and fairy dust will be arriving any moment now.